Part III: Conduct Professional Edits


Welcome to the third of a four part series (1, 2, 3, 4) on Technical Writing and Editing.

If you’re editing someone else’s work, your revisions must look professional. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a student project, a freelance job, or a favour for a friend. It needs to look professional. That appearance of professionalism helps your edits be taken seriously. If a writer is resistant to change or on-the-fence, how the document is edited may impact their acceptance of the changes.

Here are some tips to create a professional looking edit.

1. Use Track Changes

It’s always best to suggest changes rather than directly edit the document. First, your changes may not be correct. Second, the final say should always be left to the author.

Using track changes also shows the amount of work put into editing. If you email a cleanly-formatted document, there’s no impact of the work that was conducted. If you email a marked-up document, your client will see the time and effort.

All word processing programs have a type of track changes and commenting system. It doesn’t matter if you’re using Word, LibreOffice, Pages, or Google Docs, there will be some sort of track changes feature.

2. Maintain the Writer’s Voice and Style

If you’re editing someone else’s document, it’s imperative that you keep the writer’s voice intact. Editor’s should only change the voice and style of the document if it is inappropriate for the context. If there are areas that you think need to be rewritten or revised for stronger impact, couch your words as (friendly) suggestions:

  • “I’m not sure but”
  • “you might consider”
  • “have you thought about”
  • “another idea could be”

3. Write a Transmittal Letter

As you’re editing the document, keep a list of any questions that you come across or problems with the text. You can also use this to document any changes you’re making that may not show up in Track Changes (such as moving tables, editing charts). Having a separate document will allow you to write out comments, and suggestions for future changes, in greater detail.

Transmittal letter
Example of a transmittal letter

When you finish editing the document, send this overview to your client. Usually document is formatted as a letter; but, if it’s an informal arrangement, you can detail the changes in an email.

What if You Hate the Edits?

Picture this: you emailed your document to an editor. You worked hard on the project and you’re excited to see the response. When you look your editor’s changes, there are some good grammar tips but the editor has completely changed your voice.

Do you have to accept their edits? It depends.

First, just because someone is editing your work, that doesn’t mean you have accept everything. Second, ask yourself:

(i) Are the changes addressed in the transmittal letter?
Read the transmittal letter, there may be more detail to the changes. If there’s not, email the editor back and ask for more detail.

(ii) Are the changes malicious?
If so, considering finding a new editor.

(iii) Did your writing style fit the context?
This is a hard one. Everyone has their own idea of what is appropriate. The key is making sure you explained the context and purpose of the document to your editor. If you wrote a scientific article that included a casual tone, the editor would be right to target the tone and style.

If you’re immediately angered by the sight of red strike-through text throughout your document, take a step back and get a cup of tea. When you come back to the document, look at the final version, where the changes are hidden and you only see the clean version. Read through it, and see if the document makes sense and it still feels like your work. Once you’re finished, turn back to the edited document and work your way through the changes line-by-line.

Learn more about applying Technical Writing to editing on Part IV: Quick and Dirty Tips to Edit Documents